Our experience of life is shaped by the way we think. All the thoughts that we have about life and the outside world combine to form our worldview. As children we go through the wonder of having a blank canvas for a worldview. Our first years are a discovery of the world and our place in life. Through our experiences we paint our picture of what we think the world is like. The worldview we create then helps us to make sense of life as we grow and mature.
And calling to him a child, he [Jesus] put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
In order to possess the kingdom of God, we need to be willing to become like little children again. We need to be prepared to start over and let Jesus paint a new picture of life for us. As He teaches us, we will begin to see life as He sees it: a sacred gift of great wonder, power and blessing.
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
Just as we have thoughts about the outside world, we have thoughts about the inner world of who we are in our heart and soul. These thoughts combine to form our identity. Our identity is simply our unique perspective on our own unique personality. When we look at the person in the mirror, all the thoughts that run through our mind are insights into the identity we have created for ourselves.
We start creating our identity from birth. I have a friend who has been fostering a young girl since she was three. From birth, this girl was tragically neglected by her parents. She shared her room with a number of cats and rarely saw her parents. As a result, she spent the first three years of her life believing she was a cat. She ate cat-food, meowed instead of talked, moved like a cat, and licked her arms to mimic the way cats would clean their fur. In the absence of a healthy human model, this beautiful young girl developed her sense of identity by watching the cats around her. When she was taken into her new home, she had to unlearn everything that she previously believed about her life. Instead she had to learn what it truly means to be human.
This is one of the basic problems with identity. It is part of our human nature to create our identity from what we see around us. Even though the human design is biologically encoded within all people, it is only by studying and interacting with our parents that we learn what it means to be human. We know that we are designed to walk on two legs, but unless a child sees people walking, they will not learn to walk by themselves. We need a model to impart vision and the desire to change.
This process is known as imprinting and it works well when the parents are healthy. However, in our infancy, we have no way of knowing whether the people who raise us are accurately modelling true humanity to us. In fact, as infants, we lack the ability to question if our models are even human at all. As a result, there have been children who have been raised by dogs or monkeys or cats and have grown up living and acting exactly like the animals who raised them.
This principle is exactly the same in the spiritual realm. As we grow spiritually, we imprint on those around us and we build a spiritual identity for ourselves which is based largely on what we see in other people. But what if everyone has been living in something less than God’s design? How do we know if the people we copy are getting life right?
Imprinting on the World
2 Corinthians 10:12
But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
Comparing or measuring ourselves to others is deeply unwise. Like my friend’s foster daughter, we can look at those around us and think we are doing well, yet live in a reality far below God’s design for our lives. Instead of forming our sense of identity by looking at the people around us, we need to measure ourselves according to God’s specific design for our lives.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Do not be conformed to the world… In other words, do not imprint on the world. Do not let the world define you. Do not let it shape your identity. Why? Because the world has a deeply distorted image of what it means to be human. The world tells us that we exist for our own benefit.[i] It raises us in a culture of selfishness and strips us of our sense of purpose. And in our infancy, we simply accept what we see as true. The world tells us we exist to work, play, buy and die. We believe the lie and grow up expecting to get a job so we can make enough money to entertain ourselves and build our material wealth before we die. We have no reason to question the call of the world to live for ourselves. Indulge yourself. Secure your own future. Do what is best for you. The message of selfishness so permeates our culture that it influences the way almost every person thinks. Because of this, as we form our sense of spiritual identity, it can be easy to mix the selfish with the spiritual.
Be transformed by the renewal of your mind…Like little children, we need to ask the Spirit of God to transform us by renewing our worldview and our identity. A key part of this renewing is exploring the reason why God created us and the world we dwell in.
When we create something, we always design our creation to serve a specific purpose. Clocks are designed to tell the time. Cars are designed to transport us places. Houses are made to give us shelter and provide a space for us to live. Every created thing has a purpose and design that is defined solely by its creator.
So what is God’s design for us? What does a life as God intended look like? If God’s goal was that we would spend eternity with Him in heaven, then why did He not simply create us in heaven? There must be a reason why we are here on the earth. These questions can be rolled into two basic questions that we all need to find the answers to:
- Why did God create us?
- Who are we?
The first question deals with our design and purpose, the second with our identity. We cannot answer the second question before the first because identity always stems from design. We can see this in the natural realm. A lion does not get to choose its identity. It is a hunter because from tooth to claw, a lion’s whole body is designed to hunt. Because of this, no healthy lion defies their design and stops eating meat. On the contrary, like us, a lion can only find its ultimate satisfaction by living according to its design. Sheep are not hunters. Sheep are designed to mill around and eat grass. If a lamb was to grow up thinking it was a lion, it would experience a frustrating, confusing and short life. In the same way, if we are to come to a true sense of identity, we need to firstly discover God’s design and purpose for our lives. Only when we know why God created us, will we be able to look into the mirror and see who we truly are.
God has created everything for a purpose beyond itself. Therefore, the more we focus on self, the more we lose sight of our purpose in life. I wanted to explore this with my children, so one day I asked: “Can you think of anything that has been created only for its own benefit?” My younger children thought about the question for a few moments and then lost interest. However, my eldest son Jacob spent the day thinking about it. At the end of the day, he had no answer. Everything he could think of was created for a reason outside itself.
“So if everything has a purpose, imagine that one day you found a strange machine that someone had invented. How could you figure out what it was created for?” Jacob paused and then answered simply: “Ask the person who made it.”
Like the strange machine, when we look at our lives, it can be a puzzle trying to learn why God has created us. Yet in the search for identity, we cannot discover who we are by getting to know ourselves better. We cannot find our identity in the people around us or in the things we do. We cannot find our identity in our age, in our beauty, in the color of our skin, in our sexuality, in the country we live in, the media we watch, in the religion we follow, or in the language we speak. The only way we can form a true sense of identity is by discovering our design.
And this is what makes this adventure so simple. If we want to learn about our design and find out why we were created, there is only one thing we need to do. We simply need to ask the One who made us.
Why would God create anything?
Does everything have to have a purpose?
What things give me a lasting sense of satisfaction and fulfilment?
Are these things a part of God’s design for me?
Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Imagine living without purpose and striving after the wind. Now imagine coming to know your true design and identity. What is that design? What does it look like? How does it feel to move from a place of vanity into a place of meaning and purpose?
This post is taken from the first chapter of First Love. Get your free copy.
[i] The philosophy of selfishness is passed down to the next generation through our education systems. Western education teaches us that we evolved by chance through countless random changes to our genetic code. According to evolution, it is the “selfish gene” that is the driving force behind all life, motivating us to protect our own lives and pass our genes on to the next generation. Yet we cannot teach a creatorless evolution without exploring the impact of such a belief on our design, ethics, purpose and value in life. Evolution values people according to the quality of their genes. If you are strong, beautiful, intelligent, or physically symmetrical then you are more valuable than other people. If you are weak, less attractive, homosexual, infertile, disabled, or less intelligent than others then you have less value to society. To the selfish gene, it is not personal. It is just the way it is: if you cannot contribute positively to the next generation then you have little or no value in the big picture of life.
Thankfully, the reality is that the universe did not create itself. It was created by a God of love with a specific design and purpose in mind. As part of His creation, God has said that all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that each one of us is immensely valuable to Him. In order to experience the value that God has invested in us, we need to embrace His design for our lives.